Sunday, June 05, 2005

Environmentalism is all about profit

I had a conversation with a girl who told me that she wanted to be a liberal but was too selfish. She, like many people, somehow believed that Liberalism is all about selfless giving in the face of logic and economics. In reality, being a good liberal can be just another way of looking out for number one.

Let’s take environmentalism. Conservatives often pose the question as if environmental concerns should be balanced against lost productivity. Wrong. We shouldn’t be looking at the harm done to those who have to comply; we should be looking at the harm done to us (me).

X$ of environmental damage should require X$ of payment. End of story. If you let a moneyed elite slip out on their obligation you’re not only encouraging more attacks on public property, your just hurting the economy more since someone has to pay for the damage. If you let a hog farm spew pig shit into public rivers because “it wouldn’t be economical any other way” then the fisherman pay with their jobs. There’s no two ways about it. Maybe the fisherman don’t have as much political clout as a single centralized hog farm but it still harms the economy.

And that’s what it comes down to. Anti-environmentalism as practiced by conservatives (there’s a fitting play on words) basically comes down to special interest politics of the worst types. The corporation dumping mercury into the air has a unified centralized Republican lobby effort and the people whose kids get leukemia don’t; their employers don’t, their customers don’t. The harm is spread out and the benefits are centralized.

And that’s what good old-fashioned self-interested Liberalism is about. The polluters have to be kept in line because it harms everybody and that means me. The monopolies have to be kept in line because they harm everybody and that means me. The public education system has to work for everybody’s child and that means mine to.

So please spare me the bleeding heart liberal crap. Maybe you see keeping mercury out of tap water as some kind of extravagant luxury but I see it as looking out for me.


First of all, many of these so called environmental hazards are examples of pure junk science and gross exaggerations. Check out the John Stossel special that shows how the environment is actually better off now than ever before.

But more importantly, of course we should factor in economic concerns. Why should we implement regulations, which would cost us millions of dollars and thousands of jobs, just to lower the presence of some random chemical in our environment by some microscopic percentage knowing full well that it won't really change a thing? Example: Kyoto Protocol. This would kill industry and productivity in the US in exchange for little to no benefit. Sure you might feel good for a while, but you've effectively stunted progress and prosperity. And doing so would harm more people than some theoretical chemical poisoning.

I think your friend's point is good and valid. The conception probably comes from the typical liberal position on taxes and the welfare state. If you subscribe to the individualism that America was founded on, then of course you'd be suspicious of these collectivist schemes. It's a good topic of discussion though.
Mercury kills as do hog farm run off. Maybe you would like to take the corporate line by saying "Well you can't prove that this factory made this child sick so nothing's happening" But there is plenty of evidence that people are dying in greater numbers. And yes, the environment is better off than before but that's because of liberal programs. Sorry, buddy. You can't rail against America as some kind of tax and regulation gulag and then take credit for the benefits.

I agree we should factor in economic concerns. Didn’t I just outline the way to do that? I’m just saying that “It would make the X industry uneconomic to pay for the damage it causes” is not a good excuse because someone has to pay and it causes the economy as a whole to suffer. What next, “Sorry dude, I can’t afford to pay for the car I just bought from you. Better just give it to me because otherwise I’ll have to liquidate my business”. Fuck that. Either you pay or the car salesman does. Either way the economic harm is done.

I wish you would do more than listen to Rush Limbaugh’s talking points on the Kyoto Protocol. It’s clear you have no idea what it does. It isn’t a cap on chemicals but rather on carbon emissions. And the caps aren’t set where they are because it makes us feel good, they’re set to the level necessary to maintain maximum sustainable extraction of resources. Maybe you don’t mind fucking up the future for your kids but I do.

If you don’t understand global warming (I guess not understanding science is part of being a conservative nowadays) then maybe you should take a trip to Alaska where half the forests have been mowed down because of a beetle that used to be killed by winter frost but which now lives through the mild winters to destroy the timber assets of that state. And that’s only due to the two or three degrees of temperature increase we’ve had so far. What happens when winter frosts fail to kill tropical pests in California? What about shifting the American farm-belt up a couple thousand miles into Canada?

And save me the Mother earth crap. Life on this planet is going to do just fine no matter what we do. The question is will this planet be able to support our standard of living if we don’t plan ahead? I believe that with some good old-fashioned Yankee ingenuity we can maintain and increase our standard of living without passing on problems to our kids. And it’s better to start people working on that fixes now than to wait for it to start affecting the economy.

Unsustainable policies lead to economic ruin before. Think the great dustbowl. Check out Montana which has enough poison leaking from its abandoned mines to kill the population a couple times over and which has to spend billions each year cleaning it up. If you think putting some filters on a few smoke stacks and encouraging people to shut down old plants and open up new ones is going to make the economy grind to a complete halt then I’m afraid you have no idea how the world works. A majority of the world is on the Protocols and their factories haven’t come to a halt. Hell! They’re producing so much stuff that we can’t import it fast enough. Japanese cars, Chinese crap, Indian crap. They all manage to make it anyway.

Sometimes I forget that conservatism isn’t a philosophy but rather a trick to get respect for corporate special interests as they take what’s ours without paying for it.
And just to be clear here. I'm not anti-corporation and big business. Far from it. I want America to be the world business center. Corporations are like babies that can't help themselves. They have to push the limits until the people in charge (that's us) make them take responsibility for their own actions. Spoiling them may seem like the way to encourage them but it's important to be firm.
I like the term "climate change" over global warming, because it does make the point: The environment can change. That isn't necessarily bad. We'll have to change with the environment, but that also isn't necessarily bad.

The forests are gone in Alaska? That's terrible! Oh, but now we can farm a lot better in Alaska. That's good! But most importantly, it's a change. It's extremely conservative to look at the issue through the lens of "We need to save the world as it is (through minor changes and such) so that we don't need to make huge changes to the way we live."
Sure BAD, change isn't necessarily a bad thing. Press the gas pedal in a car and watch the scenery change. It’s not so much fun when no one’s driving though. That’s what we have right now. We have a car that’s headed god knows where, being driven by Oil companies that swear we’re not moving and if we are it’s not because their foot’s on the gas.

The scientists themselves admit they don’t know exactly what climate change will bring. Sure, our car might pull up in a wonderful new town, but more than likely we end up in a ditch. Getting ourselves out will be a whole lot more expensive than paying attention to the road in the first place.

If someone had some grand plan to change the earth’s climate to make more land habitable and productive - well, I’d obviously be skeptical because the stakes are pretty freakin’ high - but I wouldn’t have a fundamental problem with that. That’s not what we have.
That's my point. Why aren't people talking about how we can adapt to climate change? The discussion right now is "things are changing" versus "things aren't changing" with everyone assuming "if things changed, that would be bad." It's time for some real non-conservativism from the people in this debate, and since I don't see it, I have a hard time believing these people are really concerned with the climate, even the so-called "environmentalists." They don't understand global warming either.
What? We're driving with no one at the wheel and you are wondering why people would rather slow down instead of just bracing for impact? That sounds smart:

Tommaso: I can't believe we got sucked out of that airplane in mid-flight. I'm glad I brought these two parachutes. Let's figure out how to use them.

BAD: That’s awfully conservative of you. But you’re liberal so I won’t pay attention to that. Dr. No is a conservative and he doesn’t seem worried.

Tommaso: Dr No is the one who pushed us out of the plane.

BAD: Instead of trying to slow down or rate of change, why not think outside the box and try to accommodate ourselves to change? That’s what liberals like, right?

Tommaso: But you said you were conservative.

BAD: When you fail to conform to my ideological stereotype of liberalism it’s because you are confused. When I fail to conform to my ideological stereotype of conservatism it’s because I’m a free thinker.

Tommaso: Good luck with that! (Puts on parachute and deploys)

BAD: Sucker…(continues to plummet)
On the subject of change, here's an excellent book by Virginia Postrel: The Future and Its Enemies.

Basically it says we shouldn't divide people between the left and the right. The divide is between people who look forward to change and can adapt, and those that are afraid.

Tommaso, your car/airplane examples don't quite fit. With regard to climate change, we don't know where we're headed and we don't really know how to significantly alter our current path. And the environment is really a random and unstable thing. A volcano blows and it completely changes the picture, for example. In your plane scenario, the parachutes are the obvious solution to a static problem. There is no obvious solution to such a dynamic problem as global climate change.
Who cares whether you're liberal or conservative? My comment is that being "conservative" on this issue is a bad idea. Using the term hopefully draws parallels with other issues that you may have strong opinions on. ("Dude, you're totally changing the definition of marriage!!" "So?") If we took no action at all, we would experience climate change. If we weren't here, the climate would still change. Sometimes, trying to fight change isn't a better idea than trying to adapt to it.
With regard to climate change, we don't know exactly where we're headed but we do know it'll be a great deal hotter and probably not conducive to American power. And yes, we do really know how to significantly alter our current path. Part of it is called the Kyoto protocols.

It may be difficult for politicians who depend on oil money to understand, but there's a well-documented scientific consensus on the issue, NRO and Micheal Criteon withstanding.

Jesus BAD, it's getting hotter. Doesn't that worry you? Do we have to view everything from a politicized perspective? We're talking about maintaining our way of life here.

Lots of civilizations fell becuase selfish pricks kept telling everyone "Hey, there's no way my farming method will get rid of the topsoil. Topsoil is moving around all the time. Our Mayan civilization will never fall!" or "Who cares if I cut down these trees? Trees die all the time. The forest is always changing. Certainly we Greenland norse will never have to worry about it." or "Why is it your business if I cut down the last giant palm tree? If you need a canoe go pray to our Easter Island Gods. Surely they wouldn't let our one source of boat making material die out!"

Governments, like people, have to plan ahead. There's always cry-babies who want to keep their toys and ruin it for everyone else but you have to be firm and say "No!" for the good of the country. I don't care if it's conservative or liberal. It's the right thing to do.
No, actually, we aren't talking about maintaining our way of life. Maybe we should be.

I'm not disputing climate change. I don't (greatly) doubt that our activities have an effect. But maybe we should be talking about whether that effect is bad.

We have the power to change the Earth's climate. Is saying "What great, influential power. Let's not use it!" really the best way to approach it?
We are saying "What great, influential power. Let's use it!"

The power we have is the power to change how much greenhouse gasses we pump out and we Liberals are saying "Let's willfully direct that toward a end that everyone wants." I'm sorry, but you may want to roll the dice on earths whether but I know about 6 million people who don't want to take a chance with their food supply. Even if the chances were 50/50 of the earth turning out better (which they are decidedly not) people don't like uncertainty and pay high premiums to avoid it. Again, this is regualr human beings, not Republican politicians.

The other side is asying "We can't control global warming and if we can then let's not bother actually controlling it and harnessing it toward some end. Let's just let go of the steering wheel and see where it takes us".
You'd be hard-pressed to find Republican politicians who hold my opinion.

So far, the only end I've heard anyone discussing is "trying to keep things the same." Where is the discussion for other alternatives?
let's consider the alternatives to limiting carbon emissions:
what would be the changes we'd have to deal with if temperatures do rise over the next cnetury because of global warming?
- less stable climate: different weather patterns means agricultural shifts and more costs for energy during hotter summers and (oddly) colder winters
- rising sea levels: even a few inches or feet could be devastating to coastal communites or island nations; in this case, poor and developing countries would be least able to cope...

don't take my word for it, read the 3 piece story from in the May issues of the "new yorker" by Elizabeth Colbert; surprisingly, it might say that we have no choice but to adjust to global warming
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